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Managing Family Expectations During the Holidays

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How do you balance your family with extended family?

Our family is complicated and it has gotten more complicated since my husband and I got married. There have been several marriages, divorces and remarriages in our parents’ lives and what traditionally might have been a holiday math problem of dividing by two, now means dividing by four at a minimum. In the early days, my husband and I found it fairly easy to celebrate Thanksgiving with one family and then Christmas with the other, alternating every year. Now it is considerably harder. I know I am not alone. I know I am also not alone in wanting to make everyone happy, especially during the holiday season when everyone wants to celebrate in some way with the grandchildren. Each family has traditions that we would like to have our children know and feel a part of.

So how do we manage? I confess that my husband and I are still figuring it out. One solution I have discovered is that New Years can be celebrated, Christmas Eve can be celebrated and the Twelfth Day of Christmas can be celebrated… all with different family members. The other thing we have learned is that clear and early communication is key. There are hopes and expectations around the holidays, and we have learned that we need to be very clear in managing those hopes and expectations. Lastly, we have learned that making everyone else happy can lead to denying our own happiness and enjoyment of the holidays. Despite the demands, expectations and pressure from well-meaning and loving family, we need to carve out space that is for our family alone. Our children’s holidays cannot be a holiday “tour.”

For us, Christmas morning is sacred. We celebrate it at home with immediate family. Do I feel guilty knowing that family members are waiting for us, chomping at the bit? Do I feel a bit left out knowing that my children’s cousins are shredding presents at that very moment with my parents or in-laws? Yes and yes. But would I feel like I had sacrificed something too important by denying my children, my husband and myself the experience of Christmas morning at home even if it is just for a few hours? Yes again.

Like everything else, the holidays are a struggle for balance. Every family has to find what works and it may take some trial and error. Families change and evolve in ways that we cannot anticipate or control. Luckily, the magic of the holidays and the desire to celebrate family remain constant despite those changes.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

December 12, 2012

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